The FCC’s “Emergency Connectivity Fund” is a $7.17 billion program that aims to help schools and libraries purchase laptops, tablets, Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and more. The program is meant to help narrow the country’s “homework gap,” a part of the long-standing digital divide.
The homework gap and digital divide were highlighted by the coronavirus pandemic, with videos going viral of children using Wi-Fi in fast food restaurant parking lots to complete their schoolwork.
The FCC adopted the final rules for the program in May. It was created as part of President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief plan earlier this year.
The window for eligible schools and libraries to apply for funding starts today and closes on Aug. 13. Those schools and libraries can use the funds between July 1 and June 30 next year. The devices bought by the schools and libraries can be used by students, school staff, and library patrons off-campus as well.
“Even before the coronavirus pandemic upended so much of day-to-day life, seven in ten teachers were assigning homework that required access to the internet. But data from this agency demonstrates that one in three households do not subscribe to broadband. Where those numbers overlap is the Homework Gap,” Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement today, adding: “We should salute the grit of each and every one of these young people who found ways to go online and keep up with school. But it shouldn’t be this hard—and going forward, thanks to the Emergency Connectivity Fund, it won’t.”
The Emergency Connectivity Fund is separate from the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB). That program allows for Americans who meet certain criteria to get a monthly discount to help pay for their internet access.